Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Operation Finally Home and Governor Brownback

Yesterday, Allen, Frankie, and I had the honor of speaking with Kansas Governor Brownback at a meeting in his office set up by Dan Vargas and Operation Finally Home.  It was a great opportunity for us in many ways and we can't say thank you enough to Dan Wallrath and Dan Vargas of Operation Finally Home.  They have done so much for us and we are so excited to be a part of their family!  It was so great to see them both and get to spend a little bit of time with them.

Operation Finally Home is an organization started by Dan Wallrath.  Dan is a custom home builder and was asked to help remodel a house for a wounded warrior.  Well, needless to say, he did that one and still does them today.  They started in Texas but have now expanded into 5 other states as well.  Part of this is also that they want to help these families succeed and do a great deal to insure this happens.  For us, not only did they play a huge part in our build, they also are paying our insurance and taxes for the first 2 years on our house.  This is how the meeting with Governor Brownback came into play.

Currently, a handful of states have great legislation that make their state a fantastic place for veteran's and their families to retire due to the benefits they offer.  For example, if a 100% service connected disabled veteran retires in Texas, they pay no personal property tax.  This is a huge draw for these families to retire in Texas, which in turn means they are spending money in Texas.  It is a win-win situation!  So, for Operation Finally Home who is paying taxes for the homes of disabled veteran's, it is important to get more states with benefits similar to Texas.  Obviously, this would mean that the money Operation Finally Home is paying in taxes, could potentially be used to build more homes.  Therefore, any state Operation Finally Home goes into to build a home, they try to set up meetings with the Governor's to start the conversations on getting the valuable legislation into that state.

During our build, Governor Brownback came out to help with our house.  During this time, Dan Vargas was able talk to him and make the connection that led to our meeting yesterday in Topeka.  We appreciate the fact that Dan V and Dan Wallrath both took the time to come up from Texas for this meeting.  One of the corporate sponsors of Operation Finally Home also came to the meeting from Texas, so thank you to Mark from LP.

We all feel that our meeting went really well.  We were excited to see that members of Gov Brownback's   office had already pulled some numbers relative to our discussion.  This makes us hopeful that they are really considering and looking at the possibility of giving some tax breaks to disabled veteran's in the state of Kansas.  Gov Brownback had also invited our state's adjutant General to join us and it was great getting to meet him and have him involved in our discussion.  Hopefully this will get the ball rolling here in Kansas to pass some legislation to help our veteran's.

Thanks again to Operation Finally Home for bringing us into your family and doing so much for us and all the veteran's you serve!!

Even Now.....Gina

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Thief PTSD

It always amazes me how quickly PTSD can come in and steal whatever it wants to from my husband.  Allen is in such a good place right now, but we still have those days where I am caught off guard from the ugly PTSD.  I guess I get fooled a little, let my guard down a little too much, because of how well he really is doing.  I know that he is not cured, nor will he ever be.  However, this will never take away my hope for remission and that he will not have to fight this every single day the rest of his life.

Since we've been home, he's been doing amazingly well.  Considering all of the adjustments we've been through the last 6 weeks, he's done phenomenal.  However, I see him struggling at times, and I know that he's working really hard not to struggle or to let anyone see him struggle.  I'm pretty certain that many people may even think he is cured he's been doing so well.  He seems happier than he's been since coming home from Iraq.  He's engaging in conversations, initiating contact with people, laughing, smiling, socializing.  From the outside looking in, most of the time, he looks pretty "normal."

This week though has been more rough.  He's still doing very well, don't get me wrong.  And, I know we are going to have bad days and possibly even a bad week here and there.  I just don't want these bad days to start multiplying into bad weeks and even months.  A couple of nights ago he had a pretty bad night.  He literally jumped out of bed twice with nightmares.  He was disoriented and into a dissociation.  Thankfully, he quickly came out of them, with the help of Frankie, but was definitely rattled.  This now has somewhat carried over into today.  I noticed him scanning the windows earlier and not responding to me.  Frankie noticed too and jumped up to him and got his attention.  He's resting now, and hopefully that will take care of it.  I've also noticed he seems a little less confident than he had, and even a little down about it.  I think he's scared of spiraling downward.  He has the tools to not let this happen this time though, and he is doing a great job of using those tools.

It just always catches me off guard how quickly PTSD can come and steal his confidence, security, and self worth.  It's similar to someone coming home to their house being broken into and along with their personal belongings being taken, their security is gone as well.  PTSD does that.  Not only does it knock them down and back to a terrifying time in their life, it steals their security, their confidence, and so much more.  It is quick, and dark, and debilitating.  It often strikes with no warning and leaves devastation in its wake.  

We refuse to let it steal him away again.  It's done that enough times already.  The difference this time is that Allen has the tools to get himself through this.  He is able to look at what it is from a much different perspective than he could a year ago.  I might have to prompt him to redirect himself and ask him what he can do to not let this ruin his day.  But, with my simple prompt, he knows what to do.  It's amazing to see the difference.  We are going to win!

Even Now.....Gina

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Year Ago

One year ago today, my sister and I flew Allen across the country to California to be admitted into The Pathway Home.  I remember that period in my life like it was yesterday.  A lot has happened in this last year, and we've come a long way.

Allen retreating into his computer shortly
before going to California for treatment.
The place Allen was at when we left home was the worst I had ever seen him.  He was struggling everyday to simply live.  He was fighting for his life.  He was scared to death he was going to hurt one of us and knew that if he did he would never be able to live with himself.  He was struggling not to take his own life in hopes of preventing something else from happening that scared him even more.  We easily could have been one of the tragic stories that make national headlines of combat veteran's going on terrifying and often deadly rampages.  Thankfully, we had a different outcome.

Allen's 11 months away was a lot of hard work for him as well as missing out on a lot at home.  He missed everyone's birthday, the holidays, our anniversary, Makale getting his learner's permit, Dreyson's numerous plays including the big one at Starlight theatre with Lou Diamond Phillips, Makale's track season, and numerous other things that happen in a year for a family.  However, he was a trooper and put in the hard work it took to get to a much better place.  

With him being away, we also missed him.  We drew comfort from the fact that he was in a safe place that could help him get better.  But, that didn't take up the hurt in our heart of being separated from him once again.  While he missed out on tons we were doing, we missed out on the progress and hard work he was doing.  We weren't there to celebrate with him the milestones he was making.  

However, in the realm of the rest of our lives, a year was a small sacrifice to make.  Allen put in so much hard work, dedication, determination, and resilience to get better so that he could live at home and be an active part in our family again.  In the 6 weeks he's been home, I've seen more of the man I married than I have in the last 4 years.  He truly is in a much better place.  He's actively parenting our boys, helping with homework, housework, and just engaged with all of us again.  Do not let that fool you though, he still very much struggles with his PTSD.  He's not cured, just better.  

While I really struggled with decisions regarding his care a year ago today, I can say I definitely made the right choice.  It was incredibly hard getting on that plane to fly to California, but I am so glad we did.  Sometimes, we have to go through these difficult choices to get to the other side.  I know that we will always have mountains to climb, but there is light on the other side.

Happy to have my husband and best friend home and, for the boys to have their dad back!!  

Even Now..........Gina

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reconnecting with Roberto

This last weekend, Allen and I were able to reconnect with the man who raised Frankie, Roberto.  We were blessed to spend a day with him in April of 2009 while we filmed a segment for the Oprah show.  It was one of the most amazing days of my life and one that has greatly influenced my life ever since.

I've written about that day before, but felt the need to write more about Roberto and what an amazing guy he is.  He put so much love, work, and time into Frankie and that love has come through in a big way to our family.  Frankie wouldn't do the things she does for Allen had it not been for Roberto.  I have no doubt that it was an extremely difficult thing for him to say goodbye to Frankie.  I'm sure he still misses her.  For all intensive purposes, she was his baby.  Yet, he said goodbye to her so that she could come live with us to be Allen's best friend and partner.  Not an easy thing to do.

Until last weekend, we hadn't heard anything from Roberto since that day in April 2009.  Then he was incarcerated and had been for nearly half his life.  We have often shared his story when we talked about Frankie and regularly thought about him and wondered how he was doing.  In June 2009 he was released from Fishkill Correctional Facility.  We were so happy for him and looking forward to hearing from him.  Well, we finally got that chance!!

I am so happy to report that he is doing great!!  We've been emailing, facebooking, and even talked on the phone over the weekend.  It is so great to form a relationship with him.  We consider him a part of our family and can now really nurture that relationship.  To read more about what he is doing with his life follow this link http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/bronx/2011/08/18/2011-08-18_helping_youth_avoid_sad_life_he_led.html .  He is truly an inspiration.

The Oprah show is also doing a follow up on the story they did on Puppies Behind Bars in 2009.  They have been filming with Roberto and interviewed us on the phone.  It is supposed to air sometime next month on the OWN network.  It will definitely be worth your time to try to watch it and learn more about Roberto and how he changed his life!

Roberto, we are so happy to have you in our life!  What you did for Allen, (and Frankie), has forever changed our lives.  You will always be a part of our life and we will forever be grateful for all you gave for us.  Thank you!

Even Now......Gina

Sunday, September 18, 2011

One Thing I Have Learned

I've learned so much about myself since Allen's injury.  One of the biggest things I have learned though is to not be judgemental.  I didn't think that I was judgemental before, but now I know I really was.  And, I'm sure that I still am to some degree.  However, this something that I am constantly reminding myself of and working on to make myself a better person.

It sickens me to over hear people's conversations while out in public.  People can be so rude and not even know they are being rude.  Today Allen and I stopped by a store on our way home from his doctor's appointment.  We are pretty used to getting comments and questions about Frankie so people talking to us or watching us isn't too out of the normal.  However, the comments that I hear sometimes are really rude and tend to stay with me.  I know I should just let them go, but I have a hard time doing that.  Today we were standing in line to check out.  We were the 3rd people in line and Allen was having a hard time being in the line.  So, I gave him the keys so he could go on out to the truck and wait for me.  The line in this particular store is one line and it is all blocked in and you have to go through the entire line to get up to the registers.  Instead of going all the way back through the line, he excused himself and walked past the 2 women in front of us and then out the door to the truck.  He was polite, said excuse me and everything.  After watching him get completely out the door, woman #1 turns to woman #2 in front of me and says, "why in the world did he just come all the way through the line to get to the door?"  Obviously she didn't know he was with me.  And really, it wasn't anything that I should take personal but it made me really mad.  I didn't say anything to her, but really wish I would have.

I just wish people would realize that everyone has issues and no one is better than the next guy.  I wrote this much of this entry a few days ago and have let it sit here, not sure if I wanted to post it or not.  I felt strongly that I needed to write something about this topic, just wasn't sure this is the way I wanted to go. Just a few minutes ago, I found another post about this same topic.  I just think it says it much better than I did.  So, here is the link to it.  Please take the time to read it.  It might just might change your life.  http://bravegirlsclub.com/archives/2151  If it gives you something to think about, please leave me a comment!

Even Now.........Gina

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tips for Traveling with a Service Dog

Traveling with a service dog can be a bit of a challenge at times, but with good planning and knowing what to expect, it should go smoothly.  My husband Allen has had his service dog for almost 3 years now and we have traveled quite a bit with her in tow.  We have learned some tips to help the traveling days go smoother and I was asked to write some of them down.  So, here they are.

Tips for flying with a service dog:

  1.  When making your flight reservations, always inform them that you will be flying with a service dog.  They can not charge you extra for your dog to fly with you, but we have found that it always goes smoother when they are expecting you.
  2. On the day you are going to fly, do not feed your dog!  We always give Frankie a little late night snack the night before just because we feel sorry for her.  But the morning we are going to fly, we do not feed her or give her any water.  That way, if we do not have time to take her out to do her business, she doesn't have much in her tummy to need to go.  As soon as we get to our final destination we have her food and a drink ready.  By doing this, she is able to go the day without having to relieve herself.  It will also reduce the chances of her getting sick for those that are prone to motion sickness.
  3. Call TSA ahead of time to make arrangements with them to help you through security.  The phone number I use is 703-603-1558 or 1-800-427-7890.  Tell them you are going to be traveling with a wounded warrior who has a service dog and will need help going through security.  This has been a life saver for us.  I usually try to call 24 hours in advance.
  4. One of the most important things is to know the ADA laws about service dogs and their access.  We usually carry a copy of the law with us in case we are questioned.  That way we have the law with us, so we are prepared to educate!
  5. Every airport is required to have a place to relieve service dogs.  However, many of these are in a dark corner or very far away from the terminal so we often do not have time between flights to take advantage of them.  We almost always have to exit security and then go through security again to get back in.  So, we try to avoid this at all costs.
For traveling in a car I follow many of the same rules.  If we are not going to be stopping regularly, we often will not feed her the morning we are going to travel.  This helps cut down on stops we have to make.  However, we do still try to stop somewhat frequently so that she has a chance to get out and stretch her legs.  Allen usually has some type of ball with us too so that he can throw her a ball for a few minutes when we do stop.  This helps her get in a little exercise and not be so restless in the car.  Something to always remember, depending on what time of the year you are traveling, the pavement may be really hot or really cold and your dog may not be used to that.  Always keep that in mind, as you do not want to damage your dog's pads on their feet.  This is where their sweat glands are and can cause serious problems if they get burnt or even frost bite.

A great site that has many more tips for traveling can be found at http://www.deltasociety.org/Page.aspx?pid=492.  One last thing to keep in mind is do not panic if your dog has an accident while out in public.  We have been very lucky with this, but have had one incident in an airport where Frankie did have an accident.  Allen just took the time to clean up after her and it was fine.  As well trained as service dogs are, we do have to keep in mind they are still a dog.  By keeping calm and just cleaning it up, it draws less attention and seems to keep others calm as well.  Even if someone says something, just remember that not everyone has been educated about service dogs.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering 9-11

I tried to write this yesterday on the actual anniversary but just couldn't seem to get anything down.  It was a day filled with reflection and emotion.  A day that always causes me to pause, count my blessings, and look back at the day that changed America forever.  When the events unfolded 10 years ago, I remember exactly what I was doing and the range of emotions that ran through me.  However, I never would have guessed how much that day was truly going to impact the rest of my life.

Ten years ago, I was teaching at a small K-12 school in the middle of a cornfield.  I was teaching 7/8 grade social studies and english and happened to be in my first hour english class when I learned about what was happening.  I remember going outside later in the morning and seeing how beautiful the day was.  The sky was so blue and peaceful until we noticed all of the plane vapor trails circling the sky.  Makale remembers me not letting him go outside to play that day, but not understanding why.

In some ways, my life was so simple until that day.  I was a single mom, working on buying my own house, and really living a pretty content life.  I had recently "met" Allen, although we had not met in person.  He was deployed at the time of the attacks.  Never in a million years, would I have pictured what my life would look like in 10 years.

I knew that day that all of America would change.  I knew that the freedom so many of us took for granted would be more appreciated.  I loved the patriotism that was brought out because of that day.  The way American's came together to help one another was incredible.  Our resilience was amazing.  However, I never knew how much my own life would be changed because of that one day.

That one day changed my life forever.  Instead of teaching a classroom full of kids, I am now a full time caregiver for my husband who was critically injured in Iraq almost four years ago.  Had the attacks not happened, my husband most likely would not have been deployed to a combat zone.  He may have faced a deployment, but that is even questionable.  In reality though, he faced 2 combat deployments which left him a completely different person.  The man who came home from war, was not the man I sent off to war.  And, all of this, is in direct relation to the deadly attacks that happened on 9/11/2001.

When I look at my life and how it changed since the attacks 10 years ago, I am a little bit overwhelmed.  I am nowhere near where I thought I would be.  With that being said, through all of the tragedy my family has personally faced, we are still very blessed.  We have Allen home with us after many long separations, deployments, treatment centers, and hospitals.  We were recently blessed with a new home, and have a community that supports us.  I have learned through all of this that I have to be willing to step out of my comfort zone in order to help others and to learn and grow.  I have embraced all of this and grown leaps and bounds in my own personal life.  Not only is my husband a much different person than he was before war, so am I.  We have learned to embrace this and make the most out of any situation, no matter how grim it may be.  We have learned to love one another through good times and bad.  But most importantly, we have learned to lean on God and to trust Him to work it all out.  God has a plan for all of us, we just have to be willing to trust in Him and to listen to know what that plan is.

My heart and prayers go out to all of those personally touched in any way by the attacks of 9/11.  I pray that you all find peace and feel the love of God in your life.

Even Now.........Gina